Chapter 7: Meat and Population

Near the end of Chapter 7, Cesar was thinking about how good a guinea pig would taste. This sparked me back onto where my previous research had left off at the end for Chapter 6. I wanted to figure out more about the global food problems and the issues involved with the world becoming more developed, increasing exponentially in population size, and becoming more meat based. I started out my research on population size with its relation to food production.

It is obvious that humans need agriculture to survive, it is the only way we can maintain our current population size without starvation. However, the human population has been steadily increasing. Our population is currently at 7.373 billion people (“Current World Population”). It is growing at a rate of 1.14 percent each year. We will most likely reach 8 billion people in the spring of 2024 if the rate holds. If the trend continues, by 2100, the human population will have stagnated around 11 billion people (“Current World Population”). This information is crucially important, because the more people we have, the more we need to feed. The more we need to feed, the more we will rely on fossil fuels and genetic modification to provide for all these people.

I wanted to know a little more about the history of human population size. I found out that around 8000 B.C., the human population was around 3 million (“Current World Population”). Around that time, agriculture became a part of our society. Over 8000 years, up to the year 1 A.D., the human population grew to about 300 million people. That is about the size of the United States today, with a growth rate during that time around 0.05 percent. Tremendous change ensued with the industrial revolution. Where it had taken all of human history until the 1800’s for the world to reach one billion people, the second billion was achieved only 130 years later, around 1930. The third billion in less than 30 years, in 1959, the fourth billion in 15 years, in 1974, and the fifth billion in only 13 years, in 1987. Just looking at the 20th century alone, the human population grew from 1.63 billion to 6 billion people. To put things into greater perspective, in 1970, there were roughly half as many people in the world as there are now. Because of declining growth rates, it will take over 200 years before we reach 14 billion people (“Current World Population”).

I discovered something interesting in my search, and that is the fact that most of this population increase isn’t coming from America or other modern countries; it’s coming from developing countries (Kunzig). As nations advance in technology, science, and medicine, their populations soar. This is because before vaccines and medical advancements, developing societies are characterized as having high death rates. As a result, they also have high birth rates in order to keep surviving. Birth rates are made even higher by the fact that their life expectancy is short. However, everywhere across the Earth, humans are living longer and surviving into adult hood to produce ever more people. India’s life expectancy went from 38 years in 1952 to 64 years today; in China, from 41 to 73 (Kunzig). All of this is why the population is soaring, because we saved people from dying.

If most of this development isn’t in America, why should we even care then? The rest of the world is catching up with developed countries, especially in terms of consumption. If the world consumed like these developing countries, like Bangladesh, India, and Uganda, we would have about half of the planet untouched by humans. However, the very opposite is happening. If the world ate like Costa Rican’s do, we would need 1.4 Earths, 1.9 Earths for the diet of Nepal, 2.5 Earths for the diet of France, and a whopping 4.1 Earths for the United States of America (Elert).

The main reason for this is that developing countries tend to eat more meat like developed countries do, and America loves its meat. There is a major problem with this, it takes 13 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of meat. Some frightening statistics show that 80 percent of the corn crown and 95 percent of the oats are fed to livestock (“State of Consumption “). We would need 4 Earths growing mostly grain to produce feedstock for the meat we would need. There are also societal impacts because of our unhealthy diets, as an estimated 65 percent of US adults are overweight or obese, which leads to an annual loss of 300,000 lives and at least 117 billion dollars in health care costs since 1999.(“State of Consumption”) Those other countries do not require as much land because it is much easier to grow plants rather than animals. Plants also have higher energy content than animal meat, therefore providing more nutrients and energy to people. Their impact on the environment is also negligible compared to Americans. Food for animal farming has led to the loss of 50 percent of wetlands, 90 percent of northwester old-growth forests, and 99 percent of the tall-grass prairies. Every day, an estimated nine square miles of rural land are lost to development for agriculture. Americans unhealthy diet includes 815 billion calories of food eaten each day, that’s 200 billion more than needed. That is enough to feed 80 million humans (“State of Consumption”). This is sad since 10 million people die each year from hunger related causes.

I then researched what can be done to help mitigate these issues. In order to slow population growth in developing nations, we need education. Education is the key, especially for young women (Carr). Nations that have more sex education are proven to have fewer children. Also, as economies improve and more job opportunities open, there is less of an incentive to have as many children working on a low labor farm when they can have one or two working modern occupations with decent pay. Contraception is also the key as 40 percent of births worldwide are unplanned (Carr). The world population will increase nonetheless, which means America will also have to change in order to survive. This means changing our diets to more plant based instead of meat based. The amount of resources required to produce meat isn’t worth it. Americans also waste 40 percent of the food produced, or about 165 billion dollars per year (Carr). This change in diet and reduction in food production to limit environmental damage will also reduce our waste. In this way we would be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle, decrease our environmental impact, be able to transition to better and more efficient farming, and have enough resources for generations to come.

Sources:

“Current World Population.” Worldometers. DPP. Web. 12 Oct. 2015. http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/

Kunzig, Robert. “Population 7 Billion.” National Geographic. RSS, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2015. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/01/seven-billion/kunzig-text

Elert. “If everyone on Earth ate like an American.” Popular Science. N.p., 15 Jun 2013. Web. 12 Oct. 2015. http://www.popsci.com/environment/article/2012-10/daily-infographic-if-everyone-lived-american-how-many-earths-would-we-need

“State of Consumption.” Public. WSU, 1 Jan 2013. Web. 12 Oct. 2015. http://www.worldwatch.org/node/810

Bentzen, Michael. “Transition in World Populations.” Population Bulletin. Population Reference Bureau, 1 Mar. 2004. Web. 12 Oct. 2015. http://www.prb.org/pdf04/transitionsinworldpop.pdf

Carr, Dara, “Is Education the Best Contraceptive?” MEASURE Communication Policy Brief (Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 2000). Web. 12 Oct. 2015. http://www.prb.org/pdf/IsEducat-Contracept_Eng.pdf

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